Discovering your strengths is much like climbing aboard a dog sled. Knowing your strengths is one thing; putting them to work is another. Mounting your sled and harnessing the dogs—identifying your strengths—is the first step to achieving your goals. The next step is to apply those strengths to grow stronger, work smarter, and live richer.
Strengthening your mindset is all about overcoming fears, strengths blindness, and those limiting beliefs preventing you from moving forward. My wife and I were certainly anxious before taking our first dog sled ride. We worried about getting hurt, losing control of the sled, or maybe careening into the snowy wilderness. And, while some of those fears were well founded, they had a lot in common with a weakness-based mindset many of us have developed about ourselves.
So often, when facing a new challenge, we prepare for the worst. On the precipice of closing a sales deal, planning a career move, or angling for that next big promotion, we assume we’re going to fly off the sled and land in the snow. This mindset predicts our fate. We lose control of the sled because we’re focused on what we can’t do, instead of tapping into what we can do.
A strengths-based mindset, on the other hand, focuses our talents on what we do best. Remember, a successful sled is pulled by a team of dogs with different talents. Each dog plays a valuable, yet distinct role in every trip. Were the driver to focus on what each dog can’t do or can’t do well, he would have trouble unifying the team and staying on the trail. To grow stronger, you must mount your own sled with confidence, knowing which strengths will help you round the next bend, leaving your can’ts and don’ts at the lodge.
Maximize Your Strengths
If a strengths-based mindset is the foundation for growing stronger, then your speed, arrival time, and ability to brace yourself against the inevitable bumps in the road all depend on whether or not you are maximizing your top strengths.
Maximizing your strengths starts by turning your top five talent themes into world class strengths. Your top talent themes are your greatest patterns of natural thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Technically they are not strengths yet. Donald Clifton defines a strength as “consistent near perfect performance in an activity.” The goal of maximizing your strengths is to add knowledge, skills, and practice to your talent themes, then productively apply those talent themes to an activity you are energized about and want to be world class at.
You also want to drive the right strength, at the right speed, at the right time. Imagine driving each of your talent themes 0-120 mph. Coasting or underusing your talent is 0-40 mph. Speeding or overusing your talent is 80-120 mph. Cruising or balancing your talent is 40-80 mph with the optimal speed between 65-80 mph.
Many people coast with a talent because it lies dormant inside of them. They have strengths blindness or perhaps are in an environment that doesn’t value that particular talent. Others may speed so fast with their talent that they crash and burn causing harm to themselves or others. But mastery is having the wisdom to drive the right talent, at the right speed, at the right time. Knowing how to shift gears, break and accelerate depending on the situation at hand.
At the same time, you must seek guidance from those who share your talents and partner with people who you feel can help you better utilize them. Make a list of resources—coaches, colleagues, books, tools—that will deepen your understanding of your signature strengths. Consider joining others in a strengths mastermind group. Commit to an attitude of lifetime learning, whether it’s through self-study, coaching, mastermind groups, or higher education. I recommend a combination of all four.